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VINTILLA v. UNITED STATES STEEL CORP. PLAN FOR EMP

August 8, 1986

RAY E. VINTILLA, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
UNITED STATES STEEL CORPORATION PLAN FOR EMPLOYEE PENSION BENEFITS, Defendant



The opinion of the court was delivered by: WEBER

 WEBER, J.

 Plaintiffs in this action were 25 former management employees of U. S. Steel Corporation employed in its Venezuelan subsidiary, Orinaco Mining Co. They were covered by the United States Steel Corporation Plan for Employee Pension Benefits, and in addition they were entitled to certain benefits under Venezuelan law in the nature of unemployment and severance benefits payable by the employer in a lump sum at the termination of employment.

 Venezuela began steps to nationalize the industry which resulted in the retirement of many employees, including the plaintiffs.

 U. S. Steel Corp.'s pension plan provided for severance benefits, which, if taken in a lump sum, would be set off against the noncontributory pension benefits until the set off was exhausted. All plaintiffs here chose the lump sum benefit option. Under Venezuelan law, the Steel Company was required to pay these employees the unemployment aid and severance benefits. The total amount so paid by U. S. Steel was about $4,000,000 and several of the within plaintiffs received payments in excess of $200,000 each.

 The Plan set off these amounts paid under Venezuelan law as severance benefits under the pension plan against the pension payments. Plaintiffs filed this litigation under ERISA, 29 U.S.C. 1001 et seq., claiming that constituted a forfeiture or wrongful withholding of pension benefits.

 In litigation in the Northern District of Ohio, the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, in this Court and in the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, defendant prevailed. Petitions for Certiorari to the United States Supreme Court were denied.

 Defendants now move for attorneys fees and expenses pursuant to 29 U.S.C. 1132(g)(1) which provides in pertinent part:

 
In any action under this title . . . by a participant, beneficiary, or fiduciary, the court in its discretion may allow a reasonable attorney's fee and costs of action to either party.

 Guidelines for the exercise of the courts' discretion are provided by judicial interpretation:

 
(1) The offending party's bad faith or culpability;
 
(2) The offending party's ability to pay the fee award.
 
(3) The deterrent effect of an attorney fee award against others acting under similar circumstances.
 
(4) Whether or not the party requesting attorneys fees seeks to benefit all participants or ...

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